Friday, 10 April 2015

Hydrogen – the Net-Negative Energy Option

Photo sourced [here]

 by Viv Forbes 

The same people who promoted intermittent energy (wind and solar) have trumped that with their latest green energy fad – hydrogen fuel.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe; it fuels the sun and is the third most common element on Earth. But it is so reactive that it is seldom found in its elemental state - it combines strongly with other elements such as oxygen to form water or with carbon to form methane. It is an essential component in all acids, alkalis, hydro-carbons and organic materials.

To extract hydrogen from natural compounds such as water, methane or coal requires very large inputs of energy. Most commonly hydrogen is produced from methane gas using heat and steam, or by electrolysis of water using large quantities of electricity.

Hydrogen can be used to power rockets, cars and engines of all types. However the energy used to produce the hydrogen can never be fully recovered from the energy in the hydrogen. It is thus NOT a source of energy – it is merely a storehouse for energy - a battery.

It is possible to produce hydrogen from water using electricity from nuclear or hydro-carbon fuels, or even intermittent green energy. The hydrogen gas could then be transported to cities as a clean energy source for cars, thus reducing pollution from petrol/diesel vehicles.

But hydrogen is a very dangerous gas. It has tiny lightweight molecules which have low energy density and are difficult to compress, contain and store. It also forms an explosive mixture with air. To provide a network of hydrogen car-fuelling stations, or to suggest hydrogen as a domestic gas, is inviting explosive disasters in the suburbs – (imagine the Health and Safety regulations!)

Inviting explosive disasters in the suburbs?

Even the impractical electric cars have benefits compared to the hydrogen car. Electricity is safer and the supply network is easier and essentially in place. Moreover, electric cars do not reduce the oxygen content of city air - every tonne of hydrogen fuel consumes eight tonnes of oxygen to produce nine tonnes of water vapour. So instead of urban smog, we may get urban fog.

And to suggest that hydrogen can provide base-load power tops all green energy idiocy.

Hydrogen is a Net-Negative Energy Option.

Viv Forbes,
Rosewood    Qld   Australia

Photo sourced Wikipedia

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Activism drives land clearing exaggeration

Mulga woodlands, photo sourced [here]

‘Drought drives mulga hunger, an article published late February in the Queensland Country Life warned of extremist environmental groups using the increased tree clearing rates in the Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report due in August to pressure the Palaszczuk Government to introduce new restrictions on vegetation management. We didn’t have to wait that long as in late March a group of “concerned scientists” had the opinion article published, ‘Land clearing in Queensland triples after policy ping pong’ published on The Conversation web site,  that used the QCL article dishonestly as they omitted the reasons given for the increased rates.
To wax lyrically about Queensland’s woodland and forests being lost is deceptive when there is no breakdown yet available between remnant and non-remnant vegetation.

No mention was made of the largest contributor because of drought, with 80% of Qld drought declared, the feeding of the regenerating acacia, mulga, as invaluable fodder to livestock.

The coal seam gas industry has made a contribution with the construction of three export pipelines that take the gas to the port of Gladstone, 2 of which are around the 540 km’s in length and extensive infrastructure including the clearing for gas wells, in field pipelines, very large water storages, compressor stations and water treatment plants. Other contributing factors include mine sites and urban encroachment. This did not fit the environmental paradigm as the article falsely claimed that the Vegetation Management Act had been rapidly watered down by the Newman government bringing back broadacre land clearing for agriculture.

To the contrary the Newman government amendments were modest including the restoration of basic tenets of our legal system, civil rights that the wider community take for granted but were denied to landowners under the Vegetation management Act.  The clearing of remnant vegetation remains extremely restricted. The “concerned scientists” berate the removal of high value regrowth from the Act which is a nonsense invented by environmentalists and ignores that their high value regrowth is encroaching on high value pastures.  In the research report, ‘Recent reversal in loss of global terrestrial biomass’, published on March 30 2015, vegetation in Australia has actually increased with the encroachment of trees into grassland a key factor. The report states:
“We also found unexpectedly large vegetation increases in savannas and shrublands of Australia, Africa, and South America. Previous analyses have focused on closed forests and did not measure this increase.
On average, Australia is “greener” today than it was two decades ago. This is despite ongoing land clearing, urbanisation and the recent droughts in some parts of the country”
Mean annual change in vegetation biomass between 1993 and 2012. Blue represents an increase; red a decrease.
Image modified from Liu et al., 2015.                          image sourced [here]

The “concerned scientists” article, ‘Land clearing in Queensland triples after policy ping pong’, is alarmist and attempts to make very broad associations to pull at the heart strings. For example:
“There are 778 species listed as “Vulnerable” or “Endangered” in Queensland. Loss of habitat is a major threat to most of them. In addition, 45% of Queensland’s ecosystems are threatened because of land clearing”

The opinion article fails to give any data at all that any clearing has been allowed where there is endangered fauna and flora.  It also pulls out a favourite trump card of the environmentalist of a calamity about to fall upon cute and cuddly, in this case the koala, with no substantiated specific data in direct correlation to the projected increase in SLATS figures.

 The core proposition by the “concerned scientists” and where they are seeking political action is:
“But in 2012, a newly elected Liberal-National government rapidly set about watering down many aspects of environmental legislation. The Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Act 2013 brought back broadscale land clearing for agriculture, and the protections for high-value regrowth on freehold and indigenous land were removed.”

Again this can clearly be demonstrated as an exaggeration. The Newman government elected in early 2012 did not bring its first amendment to the Vegetation management Act until May 2013. Hardly rapidly! Far from a complete “watering down” of the Act, the amendments in May and December 2013 were in the scale of things modest and most certainly necessary.  Amongst the amendments was the restoration of civil rights denied to landowners under the Vegetation management Act and improvements were made to how the Act worked such as the application for fodder harvesting of mulga which retained a code of how drought feeding to staving livestock was to be conducted. Also the introduction of guidelines for vegetation thinning to counter the environmental and production problem of thickening as authenticated by a lifetimes work by internationally renowned woodland scientist Dr Bill Burrows. The term high value regrowth was always without foundation and was rightly removed. This is after all land that had been cleared and is being maintained for agricultural production.

The article recites the so-called “litany” of perceived problems of land clearing as if they are automatic in every instance and without background which points out instances where improved grass cover from clearing actually decreases erosion and improves water quality but that does not fit within the environmental paradigm. There is not much science to this article but much environmental activism.

Most agricultural land clearing is undertaken on land that had been cleared once before. The fact is that most agricultural production essential to feed our population by necessity occurs off land that is thinned of its vegetation or a large percentage cleared.  Land has been set aside for different purposes and its time environmentalists reserve full conservation management to National Parks only and don’t transfer these expectations to agricultural production systems.
Editorial 26th March 2015 Queensland Country Life

Friday, 3 April 2015

Grassfed Cattle Levies Inquiry-Where to Now

"Should the following recommendations be rejected or even watered down, the committee fears that this existing goodwill, and with it efforts to provide a viable structure for producers, will rapidly diminish." 1 ( my emphasis-Report of Senate Inquiry into grassfed levies)

Joanne Rea

Grassfed Cattle Levies Inquiry-Where to Now
by Joanne Rea
The Senate Inquiry into grassfed levies was completed and reported on by early September 2014. So far only two of seven recommendations have been discussed and an outcome presented to the Minister. All seven recommendations can be found here.

Australian Meat Producers Group and Concerned Cattle Producers (AMPG/CCP) and Australian Beef Association (ABA) have publicly thrown their support behind all seven recommendations. Our lead cattle production policy body, CCA, have not made any public commitments either in favour of or rejecting recommendations three to seven
There are claims that proponents of change who are in favour of the seven Senate recommendations are just the “rant” of a vocal minority.

The Senate submissions and hearings themselves give the lie to these claims. The list of genuine deficiencies in our current red meat industry structures, as made by practising grassfed cattle producers was eerily similar across the country. This was backed up by public hearings in all states.
Almost 200 people or organisations made submissions with most pointing out intransigent problems with the current system. Many who were and still are in deep drought or debt were under too much pressure to submit and were relying on others to make a reasonable case.
I really don't know what “majority” the detractors think they are speaking on behalf of but to me it is clear that the “majority” that I see has made their wish for change loud and clear. The Senators thought so too.

7.33 The committee notes that the current levy system was put in place at a time when the extent of vertical integration could not have been foreseen. The prevailing perception is that the current structure has enabled processors to gain disproportionate influence over the producer levy system, at the expense of grass-fed producers who pay the greatest proportion of the levy. Indeed, this matter, along with concerns regarding the 'undemocratic' nature of the MLA voting system, has contributed to the loss of trust in MLA expressed by many submitters. 2

Recommendation number seven states that,
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the cattle industry, conduct an analysis of the benefits, costs and consequences of introducing legislation akin to the Packers and Stockyards Act 1921 and Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting Act 1999.

Already there have been some rumblings that the US Acts are huge and expensive and cost the processing industry billions of dollars to comply with. It would be a great shame if the process were dismissed as a result without proper discussion of the likely benefits.

The fact is that there are many elements to the US system and its administration that we will not need to start from scratch with but will be able to be accommodated in existing structures.
Modern computer technology also means that data can be collected, transmitted and analysed relatively easily.

Peter Weeks in the MLA submission claims that they achieve the aims of required transparency by just ringing the processors and asking about their sales information, which they give voluntarily, and it only costs about $2,000,000. (emphasis added).

GIPSA, the body in the US which oversees the Stockyards and Packers Act spends considerable time prosecuting, settling and fining companies who do not pay for livestock within the prescribed period of three days. Payment protection is a very large part of their mandate. Although there are always a few people who want payment within a short period to be prescribed in Australia, many of us realise that this would put undue financial pressure on some small processors and we roll with the punches as long as we are ultimately paid.

As well as payment protection the agency is there  ''to assure fair competition and fair trade practices, to safeguard farmers and protect consumers...and to protect members of the livestock, meat, and poultry industries from unfair, deceptive, unjustly discriminatory and monopolistic practices...'' 3

We already have a body in the ACCC which is supposed to oversee these sorts of problems. They are not very active in rural industry until recently and they do not appear to have a great deal of expertise in or understanding of rural industry or a price taking market. A dedicated rural desk backed by industry specific legislation should see a more knowledgeable approach.

GIPSA also monitors the accuracy of scales and weighing of livestock. We already have such a body in Ausmeat. The only question is whether we want to give it more enforcement power and how much.
GIPSA also reviews stockyard services, handling practices and facilities. In Australia we have a plethora of codes and regulation which covers all of that.
Once the meat is stripped from the bone it may transpire that all we need is a bit of tightening of existing laws and very few new ones but they need an Act of there own to be coherent and have the appropriate monitoring in place..
We need to start informing the Minister for Agriculture what we require from an Australian version of the Stockyards and Packers Act which should be unique and called something else, bearing in mind that we do not want or need a clone of the US Act but a clean sheet of paper where we list the similar functions that we require and how we want them implemented.

GIPSA's Mission is unequivocally "To protect fair trade Practices, financial integrity, and competitive markets for livestock, meat, and poultry."

It is charged with:-

  • Conducting major investigations involving fraud, unfair competition, and deceptive practices.
  • Ensuring accurate scales and accurate weighing of livestock, meat, and poultry.
  • Monitoring market performance.
  • Carrying out the payment and statutory trust provisions of the Poultry Producers Financial Protection Act of 1987. Continuing certification of the "clear title" systems
  • Reviewing stockyard services, handling practices, and facilities.
We have no such body in Australia which is dedicated to producers with MLA's Meat industry Strategic Plan, where it stops being a social document, and occasionally poses as a business document, talking about “supply chain profitability” rather than producer profitability.

The Mandatory Price Reporting Act requires:-
 that the information, including price and volume information, be provided in a format that can be readily understood by producers; improves the price and supply reporting services of the Department of Agriculture; and encourages competition in the marketplace for livestock and livestock products.

In the latest round of amendments congress ordered the USDA to set up an interactive website which covered prices and numbers for every category of cattle, boxed beef and by-products as well as other livestock. A sample of the website can be accessed here and here. A great deal of very up to date information can be sourced from these reports. Processors are required to submit sales once or twice a day. Do we want this in an Australian version of the Packers and Stockyards Act.

One of the problems with the present market intelligence system as administered by MLA is that the information available and its methods of presentation have barely changed in a decade and a half. As time has moved on and the industry has become more vertically integrated those left in the dark have been the specialist cattle producers.

Do we need to do better than this? The Senators have offered the opportunity. Are we going to throw it away?

2 .Ibid. ch.7 p84